Mo'Nique, Sandra Bullock Win Big On Oscar Night

Hollywood's biggest stars and weightiest powerbrokers gathered Sunday for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards. Actresses Mo'Nique and Sandra Bullock took home the top acting statues for actresses for their roles in Precious and the Blind Side , respectively, while Kathryn Bigelow made history as the first woman to win the Best Director award for "Hurt Locker." That movie also took top prize for Best Picture. Host Michel Martin speaks with Wesley Morris, film critic for The Boston Globe, and filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Oscars.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Im Michel Martin, and youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, I share my thoughts about womens history month and other months, thats in just a few minutes.

But first Hollywood celebrated its own at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards last night. Joining me to recap the best and worst about the Oscars is Wesley Morris. He's the film critic for the Boston Globe, and Reginald Hudlin, a Hollywood producer, writer, director and member of the Academy. I welcome you, both. Welcome, back I should say.

Mr. REGINALD HUDLIN (Film Producer; Director; Member, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences): Thank you.

Mr. WESLEY MORRIS (Film Critic, Boston Globe): Hello, Michel.

MARTIN: I know, late night for everybody, try to perk up all right, shall we?

Mr. HUDLIN: Im awake. Im awake.

MARTIN: Youre energized. Im glad to hear it.

Mr. HUDLIN: Yes.

MARTIN: Well, lets start off by hearing a bit of MoNiques acceptance speech after she was awarded the Academy Award for best supporting actress that, of course, her role as the horrendous mother figure in "Precious," the film after the novel "Push" by Sapphire, here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The 82nd Annual Academy Awards")

MONIQUE (Actress): First, I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics.

(Soundbite of applause)

MONIQUE: I want to thank Ms. Hattie McDaniel for enduring all that she had to do so that I would not have to. Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey because you touched it, the whole world saw it.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, Wesley, what's she talking about, the politics and not the performance? What's she talking about?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, MoNique actually did a very unusual thing by Hollywood standards which is that she decided not to campaign for an award. She didnt show up on the talk shows. She has her own show. She didnt cozy up to the Academy. She didnt do all kinds of magazine spreads, and sort of talk about how much the Oscar meant to her. She really just stayed back. And, I think, that she got a lot of heat initially, and then it seemed to not affect her chances or her odds of winning other awards. And I think it became this very sort of controversial thing that worked out in her favor and then shes right. It should not be about having to campaign to win these things. You should either win because you were good or you lose. I mean it - it should speak for itself and I think that in her case it worked.

MARTIN: Reginald, what about that? Is that the expectation, that people will campaign for these things? I really I think she had a good argument. Number one, she has two little boys and she has two small children and she has a daily show. So I dont know how she would have figured - how she would have managed that. But Reginald, what about that? Was there some sort of negativity around her refusal to campaign?

Mr. HUDLIN: Well, you know, the thing is whether there was negativity or not, I mean, you know, the fact is, you know, a campaigning is dirty business whether its politics or even in the entertainment business. So people certainly seized upon that and tried to spin that perception of shes not really grateful because look at what she's not doing. So, there was certainly an attempt whether it was a it certainly didnt seem to be a natural perception because she won pretty much everything that she was nominated for, but there was certainly an attempt to spin it as if there was grumbling, there was negativity and she just kept on winning.

MARTIN: And, Reginald, can I ask you about one other thing, speaking of sort of the politics of the award. She became the fifth African-American to win an Oscar...

Mr. HUDLIN: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...joining, of course, Hattie McDaniel who - to whom she gave homage and Whoopi Goldberg, Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson that, you know, there is some feeling, I know its been sort of talked about particularly on black radio this morning is, okay, she wins for playing an abusive mother. Hattie McDaniel plays for being a maid, Halle Berry plays a woman is having sex with a man who has abused and killed her husband, whats up with all of that? Is it that - do you see where Im (unintelligible)?

Mr. HUDLIN: Sure.

MARTIN: Some people say thats great that she won the award. A lot of people really respect and appreciate MoNique, but thats what African-American woman win for, when Sandra Bullock wins for playing an uplifting, positive role.

Mr. HUDLIN: Well, heres the reality is, you know, most women, I mean, for instance, there was a run a couple of years ago when women who won - played prostitutes kept winning the Oscars. And this was not a necessarily a black thing. This is just women, you know, and the parts they are offered, or at least the juicy parts they are offered. Its become a long running joke that if you want to win an Oscar you have to play someone who is mentally incapacitated.

So, these kind of big showy roles which often youre playing an anti-hero, youre playing a villain, for example, the best supporting actor plays one of the most evil Nazis ever on screen. So yes, you know, its particularly frustrating for the black community because we have such a desire to see the full range of our humanity, but the reality is, race aside, those kind of parts tend to be Oscar bait.

MARTIN: And speaking of Sandra Bullock - I mentioned her. She won best actress for her role in "The Blind Side." Wesley, weve talked about this film earlier when you were on the program talking about looking ahead to the Oscars.

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah.

MARTIN: And you said there were some feelings about the fact that its a - that - first of all, the film made a lot of money. A lot of people enjoyed it. But there was some - a little bit of an ick factor in the sense that here's a woman who plays a role - for - she has to, like, save the black kid.

Mr. MORRIS: Right. Right.

MARTIN: And all your people are saying, whats up with that? And now that youve thought about a little bit more and some time has passed and she did give, I think, a lovely acceptance speech...

Mr. MORRIS: It was a great speech.

MARTIN: ...where she gave a shout out too and appreciation for the mothers out there who take care of babies, no matter who they are. Does that change your feelings about it all?

Mr. MORRIS: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: No, I mean, you know, the thing about Sandra Bullocks performance in that movie, is that it is separate from the movies actual problem. I mean, yes, she's playing the woman who - the white woman who takes in this black kid. But the problem with the movie is not her character. Its the fact that the screenwriter and director John Lee Hancock didnt bother to make Michael Oher more of a character in the film. I mean, theres no - its her movie, not his. But its his story, not hers. Its a really interesting up-ending of, I guess, the ownership of this situation. I just - as Ive said before...

MARTIN: So, the black person is the object, not the subject?

Mr. MORRIS: Right. I mean, and Ive...

MARTIN: Once again, the done to rather than the doer.

Mr. MORRIS: Right. I mean, this is a vehicle for Sandra Bullock, not - you know, its an ensemble picture. Its a movie about how this woman basically molds this kid into a good football player and gives him a chance he wouldnt have had were not for her.

MARTIN: Regi, what do you feel about that? Does that - did the film similarly push your buttons?

Mr. HUDLIN: Well, you know, I think these things are really complicated. When I look at that movie, I don't - I dont know. Is there a lot of difference between "Precious" and "The Blind Side"? There's - certainly are a lot of similarities. And, I mean, there are people who object to both films. But, you know, "The Blind Side" has a black producer. A black filmmaker made "Precious." And at the end of the day, I think there's something great about this woman helping this young black man. I think there's nothing wrong with celebrating it. Is there any, you know, is it comparable to "Schindlers List," where you have a German who saves a bunch Jews? You know, I dont know...

MARTIN: Also, they're based on historical reality.

Mr. HUDLIN: Exactly. I mean, - I dont, you know, at the end of the day, this woman did a great thing. And at a certain point, you dont want to be a jerk and say, oh, why couldnt it be a black person? Well, you know, sometimes black people save people. Sometimes white people save people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUDLIN: I hear your point about wanting to see more of Michael Oher and fleshing him out. And I agree, I would have liked to know more about that character.

MARTIN: Well, I think Wesleys point was that the sort of white folks being either redeemed by black people or saving black people is almost a trope.

Mr. HUDLIN: And it absolutely is.

MARTIN: And so...

Mr. HUDLIN: There's no doubt about it. There's a long tradition of - I mean, I remember being a kid and seeing "Conrack" and getting all choked up. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: "Conrack."

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. HUDLIN: So - I mean, yes. That tradition of, you know, people being transformed, you know, in both directions - of course, you know, every once in a while, we get the reverse. We get "To Sir, with Love," and so on. So...

MARTIN: Thats true. Thats true - or "The Lilies of the Field."

And if youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking Oscars with film critic Wesley Morris and producer Reginald Hudlin. And, historic night - I think everybody can agree with that. Speaking of history, Barbra Streisand talked about how Lee Daniels was only the second African-American nominated for best director, Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman, and she won. She's the first woman to take home the statue for best director for "The Hurt Locker," of course. Ill just play a short clip of her talking about her win. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The 82nd Annual Academy Awards")

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. KATHRYN BIGELOW (Director, "The Hurt Locker"): This really is - theres no other way to describe it. Its the moment of a lifetime. First of all, this is so extraordinary to be in the company of such powerful - my fellow nominees - such powerful filmmakers who have inspired me and I have admired for, some of whom, for decades. And thank you to every member of the Academy. This is, again, the moment of a lifetime.

MARTIN: You know, Reginald, whats interesting, she didnt really make any explicit reference to her gender or this being history making in the way that, for example, Halle Berry did when she won or in the way that MoNique did when she won. Do you feel that her gender played a role in her victory?

I mean, I think the critics raved about "The Hurt Locker." It didnt make a lot of money, but I think most people who saw it - have seen it just thought it was an amazing film. But do you think that her gender played a role? And will her win play a role in opening up opportunities for other women in Hollywood?

Mr. HUDLIN: Yes, I think her gender played a role, but thats okay. I mean, the fact is, she made an amazing movie. It was interesting - just being on a set and you talk to some other below-the-line folks, the, you know, DP's and the grips and stuff like that. You know, there was a lot of love for "The Hurt Locker" because people looked at that film as a film with a lot of integrity. So I wasn't surprised to see the wins for her and the wins for the film. And also, I think, the fact that she's a woman who has made a, quote-unquote, "mans movie."

I think, the fact that she broke through doing what is not perceived as the kind of movies that women direct, I think gave her an extra boost. So does that make it easier or tougher on the next woman? I dont think it necessarily makes a difference. I think Hollywood, it's tough to make changes. I mean, black folks have been making, quote-unquote, "breakthroughs" for a long time. But at the end of the day, change is glacial.

MARTIN: And to that end, what about Gabourey Sidibe, the star of "Precious," nominated for the best actress? And, of course, she has an amazing story, too. Here's a girl who is a college student, tried out on a whim, got the part, and then is then, you know, sitting in the front row seat at the Oscars, and has, I think, has gotten a lot of attention both for the strength of her performance and because she's an unusual leading lady in Hollywood, being of large size, as well as dark skin. We might as well just say it. Does her - does this open up other opportunities for women like her, do you think, Regi?

Mr. HUDLIN: Well, I mean...

MARTIN: No, based on your preface(ph), in which you just said no.

Mr. HUDLIN: I mean, were actually the fact is...

MARTIN: No.

Mr. HUDLIN: I dont think that she - I mean, she is unusual, but she isnt. I mean, you know, the fact is you'll - I mean, not to diminish her extraordinary achievement. I think Oprah put it very well last night, like, here you are. You were college student, and now you're in the same category as Meryl Streep. Thats an amazing, amazing story. But, you know, the fact is whether youre talking Hattie McDaniel or Gabourey or MoNique?, I think, you know, a heavy-set black women actually has a better shot in Hollywood than a more conventional leading lady.

MARTIN: And finally, can I ask each of you what you thought about the program itself, the production itself, the Oscars as a show? Wesley, what do you think?

Mr. MORRIS: I thought it was long. It was three hours and 32 minutes. It felt like six hours and 64 minutes. I mean, thats actually seven hours and four minutes. Its long.

MARTIN: It's always long.

Mr. MORRIS: And it didnt - I dont really complain about the length of the show, but I think this year, they really made a mistake. And I think that the mistake, basically, was to prepackage most of the show with these clip montages which dont really work with a live program in the way that some of the other innovations they came up with last year, like having the nominees serenade each - like having old winners serenade the current nominees, which they did in the later half of the show, which actually picked up. It became a lot more of a live production, as opposed to relying on these sort of pandering clip packages to horror movies, which made no sense...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: ...since, you know, we dont expect that from the Academy Awards.

MARTIN: It made sense the film students out there whove studied...

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah, I mean...

MARTIN: ...but for the rest of us, it's like what? What is that? We havent seen that.

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah, but the John Hughes tribute, which was a relatively good idea, but, I mean, he had no - he was never nominated for an Academy Award. It was not like - there was a lot of sort of trying to figure out who was going to watch the show once they got all these people in front of their TV sets, who was actually there.

MARTIN: Welcome to programming, my dear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Welcome to programming.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah, I mean...

MARTIN: Okay, Regi, Im sorry, quick, we only have 10 seconds: Thumbs up or thumbs down on the production? Did you like it, didnt like it?

Mr. HUDLIN: I thought it was a - I thought they did very well considering - you know, the ugly truth is unless they eliminate some of the categories that audiences dont care so much about, the show's always going to feel really long.

MARTIN: Okay. Long - its long enough for me to eat a sandwich. I was happy about that. All right. Reginald Hudlin is a Hollywood producer, writer and director. And he's a voting member of the Academy. Were going to ask him how he voted. He joined us from NPR West.

Mr. MORRIS: You should, Michel.

MARTIN: Wesley Morris is a film critic for the Boston Globe, and he joined us from Boston. Gentleman, I thank you both.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORRIS: Thank you.

Mr. HUDLIN: Thanks, bye.

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